Posts Tagged ‘Business Planning’


3 Keys to Writing a Powerful Mission Statement

5-20 writing a mission statement smallEstablishing your identity as a small business is a challenge. At first, you may be tempted to chase every dollar you think you can get in the attempt to bring in revenue, but the fact is that if you try to appeal to everyone, you will end up appealing to no one. It is important to hone and identify your core audience as part of your business plan. In doing so, you have laid the foundation for writing your mission statement.

While there are many examples of mission statements that are so grandiose, they are almost a joke, a good mission statement clearly communicates a business's services, the type of projects in which the firm specializes, and unique values offered. For example, as the SmallBizLady, my mission is to end small business failure. It sounds simple, but it is easy to get off track. In order to write a potent mission statement, here are three considerations to get you off to the right start.

1. Give Yourself Sufficient Time to Write.

Mission statements are deceptively simple. They usually consist of a one to three sentences that provide an overview of the business and its goals. However, a good mission statement will also provide a view into the essence of what sets your small business apart from others.

Identifying and communicating your core principle may be challenging. You’ll need to write several versions and give yourself time to edit them into one cohesive statement. It is best if you allow yourself several writing sessions over a few days in order to convey it in a direct and meaningful way.

2. Communicate What Makes Your Small Business Unique.

Many a mission statement has been written on the bones of another more established company's hard work. You may be tempted to take the easy way out and "borrow" a phrase or even direct quotes from a firm you admire. It’s fine to get inspiration from other companies’ mission statements, but yours should be unique to your brand.

3. Use This as an Opportunity to Further Refine Your Business's Core Values.

Not all of us enjoy writing or even think that we can write well. However, this mindset will sap of you of your strength and undermine your confidence. At its core, writing is a powerful form of communication, and strong communication is a central tenet of doing business. It’s all about what you want to be known for.

The exercise of writing your mission statement strengthens your ability to communicate in a compelling manner. It is vital to push yourself to do this significant work in a thoughtful and conscientious way. You might even, through the act of writing, uncover core values you hadn’t elaborated on before.

Your mission statement is the cornerstone of your marketing efforts. It provides clarity and focus on the essence of your business. When you put substantial effort into the creation of this document, you create a steady foundation that helps you move forward with more vigor and determination.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Take a Summer Vacation and Still Provide Great Customer Service

Blue parasolsDo you want to take a summer vacation this year, but fear you can’t without your company’s customer service suffering? Perhaps you’re worried about how to handle employees’ requests for time off this summer and still provide great service.

Your small business doesn’t need to suffer, nor do you and your staff need to sacrifice time off. In fact, the majority of small business owners (59 percent) plan to take at least one full week of vacation this summer, according to the American Express OPEN Spring 2015 Small Business Monitor. Here are 3 steps you can take to ensure service doesn’t shut down while you or some of your staff are gone.

  1. Plan ahead. If you want to enjoy your vacation instead of working through it, let your staff know what is—and isn’t—important enough for them to disturb you. Identify someone who can “triage” work while you’re gone, handling what’s urgent and communicating with customers or clients for you. Select a couple times a day (if possible) when you’ll quickly check voice mail and email for urgent messages; then try to avoid looking at your devices. Otherwise, you’ll never relax and recharge.
  2. Make sure you have the capabilities you need to stay in touch. Look for a business phone system, like Nextiva, with features such as flexible forwarding. This can route your incoming office calls to your cell phone or other numbers you choose. Services such as voicemail-to-email or voicemail-to-text make it easy to get your voice messages no matter where you are. Last, but not least, being able to set up and hold conference calls from your mobile phone, tablet or laptop will ensure that if an urgent situation arises, you can communicate with everyone on your team that you need to consult.
  3. Streamline the service process. Phone system features that lessen the need for live workers make it easier to give employees time off. For instance, an auto-attendant feature ensures customers get a professional greeting and are quickly routed to the person or department they need without having to go through a live receptionist. Look for call center options that make it easy to switch callers from one service representative to another, track time on hold so customers don’t spend too long in the queue, share information about customers so they don’t have to repeat themselves. All of these features ensure customers never know when your team is short staffed because they always get the same great level of service.

Mondays with Mike: Boost Your Bottom Line With Recurring Fees

5-18 recurring fees smallAttracting and converting new customers is an important part of any business.  Revenue is the lifeblood of our companies, and it’s important to devote time and energy to ensuring we have a steady, fresh supply.  One source of revenue we shouldn’t overlook, though, is our existing customer base.  If we’re chasing down new clients without first looking at how we can maximize revenue from our current clients, we’re missing out on real opportunities.

One of the very best ways I’ve found to bump up my billing is by converting customers to a recurring fee plan.  Here’s how it works:

Say you own an HVAC company.  You have a stable of corporate clients, and when they call you for a repair, it’s never cheap.  Your average call results in a bill for $2000.  You make an average of one call per year to each client, but you’re looking for a way to increase your per client earnings.  So you offer your clients a plan.  They pay $200 each month, and when they call you, their service is covered (with appropriate restrictions of course.)  Your revenue per client has gone up to $2400 per year, and you’re providing a huge benefit to your clients as well.  Rather than having to scrape together $2K when the a/c goes on the fritz in August, they know they’re covered.  They benefit from predictable costs, and you benefit from increased revenue and predictable income.  It’s a win-win.

But there’s more: your technicians have added incentive to work efficiently, since they’re not billing by the hour.  They also have incentive to fix things properly the first time, since any shoddy work will come out of your bottom line, should they have to go back for a second repair.  Likewise, your customers will call you at the first sign of trouble, rather than waiting for a small problem to turn into a large one.

You’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll be able to convert customers to a recurring fee model.  We’re far less likely to balk at a low monthly fee than we are to experience sticker shock when we look at the annual total.  Once your customers get used to your new model, they don’t even think about that predictable monthly expense.  It’s practically invisible to them.

Nearly every business can find some way to implement a recurring fee program.  Whether you’re a liquor store that enrolls clients in a Beer-of-the-Month Club, or you’re an office supplier who bills monthly for copier servicing plans, you can find a way to make recurring fees work for your company.

The best of both worlds is when your recurring fees bring your customers even closer to you and your staff.  Creating an elite program for your top-drawer clients gives the client an ego boost and gives you a revenue boost.  You’re preserving future business, and you’re doing it in a way that lets your clients manage their costs effectively. 


How to Build “Overnight Success”…Within a Decade

Posted on by Carol Roth

5-15 long-term success smallIn a world where two clicks are too many and online purchases are about to arrive at our doors instantly via drones, we have taken the concept of instant gratification to a new level. Every new business owner envisions overnight success. But no amount of technology is likely to make up for patience and dedication.

Most companies touted as overnight successes were actually years in the making. Here are some ways that you can emulate their long-term success.

The Willingness to Do What it Takes

The major players got to where they are through hard work over the long-term and business success does not lighten the load. To this day, Howard Schultz, the CEO of  Starbucks is reported to put in 13-hour days at the office before going home to work some more.

Doing what it takes involves much more than running your daily business operations. Be prepared to get out of the office. Attend conferences that can teach you new methods within your industry or within business in general. Travel across your community, the country or even around the world to find new markets for your products or services. Check out other companies whose success you want to meet or exceed.  And don’t just try—make things happen by leaving no stone unturned.

Collaboration Over Competition

Rather than looking at other companies in your industry as competition, think of them as potential allies. Your businesses may excel in different areas that can create a winning relationship through formal or informal collaboration, ultimately leading to more success for your business.

In an article in FastCompany, Bob Mudge, President of Consumer and Mass Business at Verizon refers to this as “co-opetition,” asserting that cooperating with other companies in the same industry may seem counterintuitive to competition, but it is an essential part of business success.

You may not be ready to collaborate on the same scale as Verizon, but even customer referrals can have a huge effect on your bottom line. Just as important, your cooperative spirit builds long-term business and personal relationships that you will value for a lifetime.

Flexibility

Your initial business idea may have a great foundation, but it may require substantial tweaking before it earns success. Steve Jobs’ early inventions did not create Apple’s success. Even though the Apple Lisa introduced the world to the Graphical User Interface, it took many years of modification until the Mac was born. And it took around two decades of reinvention before the company became an overnight success.

The old motto, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” should be posted on the wall of every business owner who really wants to make it big. Always look for ways to change or enhance your products or services until customers beat a path to your door.

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken

At the opposite end of the coin, you need recognize what you are doing right and stay the course. Take a lesson from the “new Coke” fiasco from back in 1985. In spite of blind taste tests that indicated that customers preferred the new formula over both Pepsi and the original Coca-Cola product, consumers flooded the company with letters of complaints. Three months later, the original formula was back on store shelves.

When loyal customers already like what you do and how you do it, don’t take it away from them. As they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Perseverance

When prospective customers say “no,” they often mean “not now.” If you have done your homework, you already have a good understanding of their current and future needs. Whether you re-design a product to better meet their needs or find ways to add value, make sure you keep them in the loop. Your diligence can turn “no” into a resounding “yes.”

Additionally, having patience is a key component of success.  Everything will take longer than you anticipate (and longer than it probably should) to complete, so keep moving forward, even when it seems like you are wading through quicksand.

You may  “want it all” and “want it now”, but the successful business owner is the one who can keep their eye on the prize and the big picture over time. Your hard work and patience will be the keys to making it big.


Why You Can Never Stop Learning in Your Small Business

Colleagues working on a creative project in a startup office laughing at funny jokeContinuous learning is critical for entrepreneurs. As much as you may or may not have enjoyed school back in the day, the fact of the matter is that entrepreneurs cannot afford to stop learning. Staying sharp and on top of what’s happening in your industry is critical to long term sustainability.  You also need to keep an eye what your competitors are up to. Still, it takes hard work to continually learn what you need to know. Here’s why you can never stop learning.

Learning From Peers is Key

As a business owner you need to make sure you surround yourself with others who are doing even bigger things than you. Iron sharpens iron. Join a mastermind group in your industry, so consider Vistage or even WPO (women presidents organization) to develop a peer group that you can learn from. Building personal relationships and learning new concepts and ideas does amazing things for your mind.

My learning challenge for you: Find a peer-to-peer business organization to join.

Go Back to School

No I don’t mean MBA school, but I do mean sign up for 6 week business plan or negotiation course. Continued learning helps you set forth with awareness toward broader horizons. Once you see that anything is possible, you can expand your goals and do even more with your business.

My learning challenge for you: Try a free class on a challenging subject via coursera.org. It doesn’t even have to be business-related, and you might be surprised how learning about art or nutrition, for example, can expand your brain in other areas.

Learning Keeps you Growing

It may be tempting to think you’ve seen or heard it all, but you close yourself off to experiencing new things when you embrace this attitude. It may feel scary to admit to gaps in your knowledge or limits in your experience, but you can’t grow beyond them until you recognize them.

The act of learning activates our growth. Your learning can be formal or informal, but ideally a blend of both will propel you to new heights, both personally and professionally.

My learning challenge for you: Make a list of areas you’re weak in, then bone up on them. Learn how to use social media. Figure out how to unclog your own pipes.

Learning Enables You to Learn from Mistakes

We make mistakes in every aspect of our lives, entrepreneurship included. What you do with those mistakes is where your future success is determined. Be embarrassed of your error and shut off from the lesson it teaches, and you don’t benefit. On the other hand, learning from the mistake and changing your path for the better makes you a smarter business owner.

Mistakes aren’t mistakes if you walk away with a lesson learned. Make a point of assessing every situation and gleaning what you can from it.

My learning challenge for you: Consider mistakes you’ve made in the recent past. Did you learn from them, or do you continue to make the same errors over and over? Consider how you can break that pattern.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Do Customers Hate Your Business?

5-12 businesses customers hate smallDo your customers hate your business—not because of anything you’ve done, but simply because of what you do? For example, most of us dread going to the dentist, meeting with our accountants to prepare our taxes, or taking our cars in for repair. The best-case scenario is at least an hour of pain and suffering; the worst-case scenario is suffering plus a huge bill at the end.

So how can you turn customers’ thinking around and transform a business people hate into one they look forward to visiting (or at least don’t dread)? Transform the customer experience, that’s how. Here are four tips to do just that:

  1. Speed things up. Do whatever you can to serve customers quickly so they can get in and get out fast. This could include emailing them forms to fill out ahead of time; having them complete forms online; using technology such as tablet computers to gather information instead of written forms; setting (and sticking to) appointment times; and streamlining your processes to eliminate time-wasters and delays.
  2. Calm customers down. Little things like comfortable seating, soothing background music and attractive surroundings can help to boost customers’ moods. I recently had my car serviced at a business with a luxurious waiting room, wide-screen TV, gourmet coffee, free Wi-Fi and even a breakfast buffet available while I waited. I got lots of work done and was so relaxed, I almost didn’t mind when my car needed a major repair.  
  3. Hire and train right. When your business is unpleasant, your staff needs to be extra-nice. At my dentist’s office, for example, everyone from the receptionist to the technicians is unfailingly friendly and greets me by name. No wonder I’ve referred tons of friends there over the years. Look for customer-facing employees who have a great “bedside manner,” never lose their cool and help customers maintain theirs, too.
  4. Build relationships. Reaching out to regular customers with thank-you notes, special offers, reminders when services are due or products are in stock, event invitations and even birthday or anniversary cards help to build connections that create a positive opinion of your business.

By taking these steps, you can gain loyal customers who’ll recommend you to others.


7 Things You Do Every Day That Hurt Your Company

Posted on by Barry Moltz

5-8 harming businessEvery business owners works hard daily to help their company. Unfortunately, there are many actions they take that do more harm than good. Here are the top seven and what to do about it:


1. You’re busy, but not productive.

Emails, phone calls, and meetings get in the way of accomplishing critical tasks. When these interruptions dominate your day, you become busy, but not productive. Instead, start the day with two goals that need to be accomplished. Do these two things before anything else and your day will always be productive.

2. You don’t ask for feedback.

The old adage says that no news is good news. You haven’t heard any complaints from your customers lately, so everything’s fine, right? Not necessarily. People typically do not tell you what they think. They usually just go away dissatisfied (and tell their friends and post in on the web).  Many times you need do some research to see what people are saying about your company.  Google your company’s name and pay attention to the search results. Read Amazon, TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews. Send an email or post a comment to ask “what can I be doing better?” Don’t be afraid of what you’ll hear, but rather excited about the opportunity to make your company better.

3. You post to social media without thinking of your brand.

Many companies have designated social media pages that they carefully craft to represent their brand. But what about your personal social media pages? You should be just as careful there. Your social media connections are made up of friends, co-workers, clients and even potential customers, and your actions always represent your company. Do not post snarky comments about customers or competitors. Think twice before posting a controversial political article or a picture of your alcoholic drink of choice that evening. Social media posts are an easy way to damage your reputation.

4. You don’t update your website.

Your website is a resource for both prospects and customers; if it’s not updated, you are hurting your company. The most common place for companies to fall behind is on their blog. Since the posts are dated, it’s easy to tell how much attention the website getting. Old posts give the impression that the website isn’t being maintained. Make sure your most recent post isn’t more than a few weeks old. Not only will posting more frequently give a better impression, it gives Google more to index so that your search rankings will be higher.

5. You ignore a client’s complaint.

If you have an unhappy customer you have not dealt with yet, you are hurting your business. The best course of action is to apologize as soon as possible and offer a generous solution. Don’t underestimate the power of a person’s angry voice. In this case, the time you’d spend doing damage control would far exceed the time it would’ve taken to remedy the situation.

6. You make critical decisions in the afternoon.

The time of day affects our brain’s functioning. According to neuroeconomist, Baba Shiv, we should make more decisions or hold important meetings in the morning when serotonin, the calming hormone, is at its natural high. It makes us feel less risk averse, so we can make harder choices.  Later in the day, it’s common to postpone decisions because we favor indecision or just avoid making a choice at all.

7. You fill every waking moment with activity.

A lack of downtime during the day hurts your company because you aren’t performing your best. The human body is designed to labor in short pulses and requires physical and mental rest at regular intervals. Schedule at least two times during the workday to reflect and recharge for a few minutes. This is done most effectively by wandering around outside where you work. Remember that taking care of yourself means you are taking care of your company.

Which one will you commit to improving?


Traditional vs. Cloud Phone Service: Everything You Need to Know

You know you need a new business phone service, but where should you start your search? There are so many options available in the market today that it can be overwhelming. As a starting point, it is important to learn the difference between a traditional phone system, often referred to as analog or on-premise, and a cloud phone system, also known as a hosted or VoIP phone systems.

traditional to cloud

Technology is rapidly evolving. Can you imagine life without your computer, cellphone or email? These things have made life easier in many ways, and your phone system should do the same for your business.  There are endless benefits to using a cloud phone system for your business communications, but we’ll focus on the top four.

1. Price

Piggy BankKnowing the total cost of ownership of each system is essential to truly understanding how much it will really cost your business. Traditional systems have many costs associated with them that you may not even think of because they don’t appear on your monthly invoice.

Traditional phone system costs include:

  • Cost of an IT person on staff or contract
  • Service fees
  • Maintenance fees
  • Long distance charges

With a cloud phone system, you get:

  • Flat monthly fee per user
  • No additional service or maintenance fees
  • No IT staff needed on site to fix an issue
  • Always have the latest technology

The price on your invoice rarely tells the whole story. You need to evaluate the total cost of each phone system. Also, remember to factor in lost revenue when your system is down. With a traditional system, you often have to schedule an on-site maintenance visit that may be days away. With a cloud phone system, you only need to call in to your provider’s support team and they can generally resolve the issue you’re experiencing in one phone call.

2. Reliability & Security

You need a reliable phone system so customers and team members can get ahold of you. This goes back to lost revenue mentioned above. With a traditional phone system, if a natural disaster or power outage occurred your phone system would go down. This would not happen with a cloud phone system. You can set up your service to automatically forward all calls to an external number or mobile device so your customers can still get in touch with you and you don’t experience any downtime.

But what if your Internet goes down? Just like the example above for a power outage or natural disaster, you can set the number(s) you’d like your calls to forward to when the system detects a lost signal. Also, if an incident occurs and you need to communicate a specific message to your customers, you can quickly swap out your Auto Attendant greetings in your online account portal. A cloud phone system enables you to have a back up plan no matter the circumstances.

3. Mobility

Mobility ImageMobility is more than being able to make and receive calls from multiple locations. In today’s business environments, customers expect to be able to reach you at all times of the day. With an analog phone system, you need to be in the office, using a desktop or cordless phone to make and receive phone calls. A cloud phone system provides you with a variety of mobility features that allow you to conduct business no matter where you are.

Additional mobility benefits of a cloud phone system: 

  • A mobile app, such as the Nextiva App allows you to use your cell phone or other mobile device like your desk phone. You can also take advantage of additional features like video conferencing, presence, chat and instant messaging capabilities, etc. to increase your team’s productivity and efficiency.
  • Call continuity allows you to start a call on your desk phone and transfer it to your mobile device without interrupting the current call. The person on the other end will never know you are no longer sitting at your desk.
  • Eliminate the need to give customers multiple phone numbers because you can receive calls made to your office number on multiple devices.

4. Scalability

scalabilityYour business is constantly changing and evolving. You may be growing, adding more employees and locations, or maybe it’s a slow time of year for your business and you’re temporarily downsizing.

With a traditional phone system:

  • It would require a significant amount of time from your IT staff or consultant to add or remove these lines of service.
  • Your system would need to be reconfigured and you may even need to run more wiring.

With a cloud phone system:

  • You can add lines or put lines on hold in seconds in your online portal.
  • You can easily connect remote workers and multiple office locations by updating call routing features.
  • Integrate with 3rd-party applications such as your CRM, Outlook, calendar, etc.

As you can see, there are many reasons a cloud phone system will benefit your business. We’ve only scratched the surface in this article, and there are many more benefits including advanced features such as Voicemail to Email, Auto Attendants and Shared Call Appearance, that provide your business with a new level of flexibility you can’t experience with a traditional phone system.

Cloud phone systems will be the standard for business communication in a few short years, but get ahead now and solidify your place as the leader in your market.

To learn more about how a cloud phone system will revolutionize your business communication and save you money, visit www.nextiva.com.


Mondays with Mike: Be Prepared! The 7 Biggest Cloud Risks

5-4 Cloud Computing smallI was an early convert to the cloud.  It suits my business and lets me work anywhere at any time.  While I’m an enthusiast of mobile access to all my information, when you’re making the leap, you need to be informed about potential problems, so you can head them off.  Here are some risks you’ll want to mitigate:

  1. Inconvenient maintenance times.  Inevitably, whatever host you choose for your cloud-based apps, there will be times when there’s behind-the-scenes tech work being done.  You’ll want to make sure you know when maintenance is scheduled so you don’t bring your entire team in for a big project, only to discover your site’s down.  Keep track of scheduled maintenance.
  2. Upgrade/update schedule.  Just when you get comfortable with the way an app works, it’ll be time for an upgrade … and you get to learn it all over again.  My favorite way to combat this problem is to stay informed about updates and get a core group of your staff trained early, so they can be a resource to the rest of the staff when you absolutely must update or upgrade.
  3. Terminated Employees.  Gone are the days when all you have to do is take back a set of keys from an employee who’s leaving.  Now, you have to make sure you protect the valuable information that’s stored online – accounts to which your employees have access.  Make sure you have a company procedure for changing passwords and protecting your privacy and the privacy of your clients.
  4. Inadvertent change.  Back when phones were just phones, the worst thing we had to worry about was accidentally “butt dialing” someone.  But now that our companies have Facebook and Twitter accounts with mobile access, you have to be extra careful you don’t accidentally post something on your company’s Facebook page that you intended to be on your personal page.  Have your IT folks add in extra steps to ensure nothing is accidentally posted or altered via your mobile apps.
  5. Legal Problems.  Certain industries not only expect, but even require confidentiality in client records.  Whether you’re an accountant, an attorney, a doctor, or any number of professions for which privacy is paramount, you must ensure your records on the cloud are completely secure.  Take the time to vet your cloud provider’s security, and you’ll head off lawsuits.
  6. Becoming a bigger target.  While it’s unlikely someone would try to break into your individual PC in order to get information, when a cloud provider amasses thousands of users records, they’re a much more appealing target for thieves who want your data.   Choose your host wisely and have a backup plan in case your account is compromised.
  7. The cloud is unavoidable.  I’m not warning you about the problems you may encounter to keep you from making the transition.  I’m helping you avoid some of the pitfalls of working on the cloud.  Assess your risks, mitigate the ones you can, and then take the leap.

More business is done on the cloud every single day, and the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.  Businesses who do their homework, create a deliberate plan, and manage the transition carefully will be poised to capture more business and manage it more easily than ever before.  




 
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